As we were leaving San Miguel we heard “You will love Guanajuato!”, “It’s the most beautiful city in Mexico”, “Guanajuato is my favorite!”. We packed our new friends superlatives along with our luggage as we prepared to leave our favorite Mexican city to move an hour and a half down the road to a city twice its size and 100 feet higher in altitude.
Did the city match the hype? In many ways it did. It was vibrant and colorful, and there were plenty of things to do and to see. And it was certainly more authentic since there was no visible stream of silver-haired expats from the US and Canada everywhere we went. They were there, but in a much bigger city like Guanajuato we were more likely to find compadres at a concert, not a coffee shop. Unless it was the shiny Starbucks off the Jardin in the center of town.
In fact, very near there we met a garrulous gentleman from our own home town. We were waiting in line for symphony tickets at Teatro Juarez and as always, Michael struck up a conversation with the nearest stranger. We found instant common ground with Jorge ( or George) because at one time we’d both lived on the Issaquah Plateau, about 20 miles east of Seattle. That chance encounter was the key to being able to find our way in this city because just over three years ago, he and his wife Susan moved here permanently. Between Jorge’s suggestions and the many recommendations from our hosts, we began to feel confident that we would indeed, enjoy this eclectic Mexican hill town.
Speaking of our hosts - you know from reading this blog that we enjoy meeting the owners of our Airbnbs, and hope we will form a memorable relationship with them. We value that right up there with a big table and strong WiFi so that is saying a lot. Our Guanajuato hosts, Susan and Endre Pataky from Calgary, Canada were off-the-charts wonderful.
They are the type of entrepreneurs who can look at a derelict building and see potential where others would just scratch their heads. They have built two amazing Airbnb complexes in the city and are busily planning for a third, all the while employing a large cadre of local workers. One of their enterprises is near the center of the city where we stayed, and the other, Terra Vista , sits high on a hill over-looking the city and all of the colorful houses that tumble down the hillsides like tipped over box of children’s blocks.
Our Airbnb was one of four large units squeezed into a building called Casa Terrerza near the old train station - but if you needed a landmark for a taxi driver you just told them “Glorieta Tepetapa”. Glorieta translates to round-about and our circular landmark was at the end of the happy-sounding Tepetapa (tep-ee-tapa) street. Each unit in the building was named after a Latin dance (ours was Samba) and the communal WiFi signal password was chachacha. There was a very pleasant rooftop deck at the top where you could retreat from the city, but not necessarily from the noise - even though our building was at the quiet end of town.
During the day the cacophony of sounds blended into the background, but at night we became more aware of street music, car horns, a chorus of barking dogs, and, just below our window an all-night taco stand where the proprietress’s chop, chop, chopping of pork meat with a large cleaver was an ongoing affair. Once we got used to the cadence we slept okay (plus ear plugs were provided) but Mexican cities are noisy, boisterous places, and that is part of their charm, so be forewarned if you choose to stay near the center of any town.
During our two weeks in Guanajuato we attended a free Valentine’s Day concert featuring five divas that belted out sorrowful, Fado-like love songs accompanied by an amazing guitarist. We also spent social time with our hosts that included a concert, and Michael and Endre attended a lively football match and an afternoon at thier home where we learned about living full-time in Mexico and what it's like running a business here.
Of course politics couldn’t help but interrupt our more civilized conversation - and that was good because we are always seeking different perspectives on world affiars. In this case we were able to hear a Canadian viewpoint on American politics with a Mexican twist.
I spent time with a delightful young Mexican women named Paulina, who shared her local knowledge and personal insights on life. We met when I signed up for one of her Airbnb Experience that promised a day of local lore, lunch and urban sketching in the back alleys of Guanajuato. Pau (pronounced Pow) was an excellent teacher and helped me dust off my latent drawing skills. In fact, she was so enjoyable to spend time with, we met on two more occasions including a day at the beautifully restored Ex Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera and botanical gardens. I put some wonderful memories down on paper and got just enough practice with perspective to begin to accurately sketch more as we travel.
Spending two weeks in a city allows us to settle into a routine that includes daily stops at our favorite shops and lots of walking. We’d heard that almost every destination in this town required walking uphill (there is even a fenicular to the highest point) and we could see that was true. But fortunately for us, our Airbnb was a enjoyable, flat, 20-minute walk to the center of town.
Along the way we rarely missed a stop at a bakery that stacked enticing pastries, cakes and muffins at eye-level in the window. The best part was stepping inside and picking up a battered, two-foot tin tray and a pair of long metal tongs to snap up the tasty treats. Once you’d piled your tray with more bread and pastries than necessary you’d take them to the counter where the cashier deftly twisted them into sheets of waxed paper and into a bag so fast you didn’t have chance to change your mind. And why would you? A bag full of whatever caught your eye cost under $4.
The supermarket was also close by so we would stop on the way home if there was any possibility we were still hungry after nibbling on street food all day. My favorite snack was a hot, skewered corn cob doused in lime juice, then slathered with mayo and crema, dusted with sharp Parmesan cheese and then splattered with chili sauce! It was a messy mouthful of tangy-crunchy-salty-spicy goodness. Michael was a fan of Tacos Pastor with spicy pineapple salsa from a stand near our house. Did I mention Chicharrones? That would be a bag filled with hunks of crisp pork rind broken off from a large slab and then given a squeeze of lime and a dusting of chili powder. Sublime. We didn’t try the split-open bags of Doritos slathered with all kinds of sauces and cheese topped with onions and cilantro. They looked interesting - but we’d already developed enough culinary vices including, last, but not least, Mexican inspired Gelato at Estacion Gelato.
While we didn’t find a resource for daily events like we did in San Miguel, there were ample opportunities to be busy every day in Guanajuato. I mentioned earlier that we bought tickets to a concert performed by the Guanajuato Symphony Orchestra. It was festival seating, but at a ticket price of just over $5 USD we didn’t mind arriving an hour early to get good seats. There must have been 100 musicians on the stage of Teatro Juarez to play Ravel’s haunting Bolero and two pieces by Rachmaninoff. The music was fantastic and the theater, both inside and out was a architectural masterpiece.
Michael was able to attend his first football match since we left Seattle in January. He and our host Endre drove about an hour outside of town to Leon, the Detroit of Mexico where General Motors has their largest car assembly plant in the world. The 1st Division Match in the MX Liga was between Leon and Toluca. The home team won 3-0 in front of 25,000 pretty crazy fans. Once again, the tickets were affordable but the real deal was two frosty Coronas poured into a 36 oz paper cup for 4 bucks.
We took in several museums, although we skipped the much hyped Mummy Museum, and spent a day instead at the Prese de la Olla reservoir where we had lunch by the lake surrounded by Mariachi bands. And then there was one last concert at the Gene Byron Museum that we attended with our hosts. I should have known when Michael told me we’d be hearing music written for piano, violin and a trumpet (is there such music?) that we were in for something different. It was a stretch to appreciate this modern tribute to three such different instruments, but an article in the The Guardian said on the benefits of exposure to new works, “This type of music opens up huge reservoirs of feeling and physicality. Listen to any, and have your squeaky gates of perception opened up.” There were plenty of squeaks all right, and bleating horns and pounding of the piano. Fortunately we were rewarded with wine and delicious Mexican tapas in the garden afterwards
After five weeks in the high desert of Mexico it was time to get back to sea level. We were headed for our sixth continent, starting in the city of Lima, Peru. So, we caught at Uber at 5:45 am this past Wednesday morning and flew to Mexico City. We had an entire day there before our 10:45 pm flight on to Lima. That was enough time to store our bags at the airport and spend the day in the city visiting the Museo Jumex and the Museo Sayama. The first features revolving modern art installations that were way over our heads. The next was housed in an architectural marvel of a building and was full of impressive art including a large collection of Rodin sculptures and colonial old masters. Note - I could keep my purse, but I had to check my bag of Peanut MM’s at the coat check. Too funny. Then, it was on to the National Museum of Anthropology - one of our favorite museums, and worth a revisit.
The highlight of the day was lunch with our hosts from our stay in San Miguel back in 2016. They own a delightful wine bar and restaurant called La Vineria Condesa in the Condesa district of Mexico City. We joined them for a leisurely lunch that could have gone on for hours. Mariana and Gustavo are the kind of people who, just like old friends, you can sit down with and pick up right where you left off. We spoke of many things including our combined frustrations over current politics in both of our countries. We also covered the joys of parenting grown children and the many wonderful parts of Mexico we still haven’t seen, including their Airbnb near Zihuatanejo that looks like the perfect retreat for a large family gathering! I know we will be back to this fascinating country where we have made so many good friends and found inspiration wherever we traveled.
Afterwards, drowsy from good food and wine, we catnapped on a bench in the Botanical Gardens until it was time to head to the airport for an easy overnight flight to Lima, Peru - where our next Senior Nomad adventures are set to begin. Join us back at sea level as we explore South American, our sixth continent, with stops in Lima, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Rio de Janerio.
Thanks for Following along,
Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads
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